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Heavy-handed anti-piracy scheme is not the answer for Australian viewers

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It looks like Australians will be thrown straight into the firing line under the proposed anti-piracy scheme which could see customers possibly fronting court and facing huge fines.

The scheme was formulated by internet service providers under strict instructions from the Australian Federal Government.

And judging by the severity of the penalties, the ISPs must have had a gun at their head.

As it stands, the scheme to stamp out illegal downloading of TV shows, movies and music will involve warning notices, legal action and unlimited fines.

The proposal would also see a customer’s personal details handed over to the rights holders to take their own action.

Now to suggest these measures are heavy-handed is an understatement.

It could see customers ending up in court where the industry and rights holders could seek unlimited damages and choke up our legal system in the process.

Now we’re not endorsing piracy by any means but surely issuing a fine or a demand for payment for a $10 movie is far less Draconian than being sued by movie studios where they count lawyers by the dozen and have endless buckets of money.

Once again, it’s the Australian Government throwing us under the bus instead of standing up to the rights holders and trying to get us a better and fairer deal.

It will ultimately be decided by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull who will hopefully see the scheme has to be toned down to a less medieval level.

More often than not, what leads to Australians downloading content illegally is that they don’t have fair access to it or, if they do, it is ridiculously overpriced compared to the rest of the world.

The scheme proposes that if a customer is found to have illegally downloaded content they will be sent an “education” notice. If it continues, the user will receive a warning notice followed by a final notice.

Game of Thrones is one of the most illegally downloaded shows
Game of Thrones is one of the most illegally downloaded shows

The ISPs must send the email within seven days of the infringement and also list the title along with the date and time when it was allegedly illegally downloaded.

But another worrying part of the scheme is the fact that the ISP can hand over your personal details to the rights holders.

So if you’ve downloaded the latest episode of Game of Thrones illegally your name, address, email address and phone number could be sent along to HBO who could launch its own legal action.

What’s even more laughable is that if a customer thinks they’ve been unfairly singled out, it’s going to cost $25 to lodge a complaint.

These complaints are heard by a panel chosen by the industry and its final decisions cannot be appealed.

Australia’s proposed scheme is far more severe than those in the UK, the US and New Zealand.

In New Zealand notices can lead to legal action but fines are capped at $15,000. There is no such cap for fines in Australia.

NZ customers also have the right to appeal. Australians do not.

In the UK any notices sent to customers do not lead to court action – they are for educational purposes only. Not so in Australia.

UK consumers also have the right to appeal.

In the US notices lead to a user having their internet speed throttled back and any fines a court can issue is capped at $30,000 per piece of content shared or downloaded.

US customers also have access to all avenues of appeal.

Another fallout of the scheme as it stands is that it could force up the prices of our broadband connections – especially if the ISPs have to administer what could turn out to be a huge operation. That cost would certainly be passed on to the customer.

There obviously needs to be some sort of cap placed on the fines which can be issued to Australian customers and appealing the decisions made should be allowed and it should be free.

Instead of threatening users with heavy penalties and uncapped fines, rights holders should make it clear where and when their content will be available.

In the long run it would work out better for everyone, including the Australian viewers, if the content was priced reasonably and available to them at the same time the rest of the world.

Surely Malcolm Turnbull can take our side and get us a fair go once and for all instead of threatening us with these severe punishments for obtaining content that we love.